Former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) took center stage Thursday during his confirmation hearing as President Obama's appointee to become secretary of defense. Hagel is a decorated Vietnam veteran, and would be the first former enlisted solider to become a secretary of defense. In his opening statement before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Hagel offered said, “I’m on the record on many issues, but no one individual vote, no individual quote, no individual statement defines me.”
Will he be confirmed? What new mindsets and policies will he bring to the Pentagon? Here are a few things we need to consider about former Hagel in order to better consider answer these questions.
As a Republican, Hagel does not exactly have his party jumping for joy about this nomination. After voting for the authorization for the use of force against Iraq, Hagel was very outspoken in his criticism of the surge of U.S. troops in 2007. He even went so far as to label it as the “most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam,” as if it were another Gulf of Tonkin resolution-type of mistake waiting to happen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) grilled Hagel about his statements on the surge today and Hagel was defiant on whether or not he stood by his opposition on the decision of the surge.
The exchange between the two was rather tense, and did not bode well for Hagel. McCain’s vote on Hagel’s confirmation could sway other Republicans who are undecided. We all thought McCain wouldn’t be around this long, especially after he scared us all to death by choosing Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate in his old age.
Hagel also took shots from Republicans at the hearing today concerning the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s endorsement of his bid for secretary of defense. This opened the door for many questions about Hagel’s stance on Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. Hagel had previously mentioned that direct talks/diplomacy might be an valid option with Iran, as opposed to hard sanctions and he was questioned about this several times. He made sure to line himself up with the Obama administration’s goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, offered the following statement:
“I’ve been on record on that issue. And as I’ve said in the past many times, all options must be on the table to achieve that goal. My policy is one of prevention, and not one of containment-and the president had made clear that is the policy of our government.”
Through this statement, it is clear that Hagel has no intention of really rocking the boat with Iran, and seems content with the Obama administration’s view on how to handle the situation. This should certainly his help case for successful nomination.
Hagel has drawn harsh criticism for his words concerning the state of Israel and the Jewish lobby. This has obviously concerned the Jewish voting bloc in America. An interesting exchange occurred between Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Hagel concering Israel. Graham implored Hagel to give him one example of when Congress had done something “stupid” in response to Israel, referencing Hagel’s previous comments about the "Jewish lobby." But in fact, Hagel never actually said that Congress had done anything stupid as a result of the lobby but rather, the lobby has done something stupid that was not in the interests of Israel.
Regarding Israel, Hagel also said,
“I’m a United States Senator. I’m not an Israeli senator. I support Israel, but my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States-not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel. If I go run for Senate in Israel, I’ll do that. Now I know most senators don’t talk like I do.”
There is nothing in this statement to suggest that Hagel is not a supporter of the relationship between the U.S. and Israel. If the people really listen to what Hagel is saying instead of freaking out when he does not mention Israel in an ultra-positive light, it seems that he has a good chance to become our next secretary of defense.